Organizing Local Businesses and Community Residents
On May 11th, 2017, our trustees and staff explored Kingsbridge, Bronx where there is an ongoing campaign to transform the Kingsbridge Armory. After the National Guard handed it over to the city in 1993, community residents have fought to have a say over how this massive city-owned resource should be developed.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Leads Charge
It has been a long battle with changing targets including several mayors, city agency commissioners, labor leaders, and of course, developers. The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has led the charge by securing broad support from unions, congregations, community-based organizations, businesses, and elected officials to form the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance.
In 2008 under Mayor Bloomberg, the Economic Development Corporation pushed to develop the armory for a shopping mall paid for with taxpayer subsidies. That proposal was widely rejected by residents who demanded a set of community benefit principles that included local jobs with living wages; 2,000 new school seats; affordable recreation and community space; and retail and entertainment facilities. The Alliance won neighborhood representation on the task force created by the Economic Development Corporation to oversee the redevelopment process. Community residents serving on the task force pushed for the inclusion of a community benefit agreement and grassroots participation in the developer selection process.
In 2013, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declared his support for one developer’s proposal to transform the armory into one of the world’s largest ice sports centers. Initially, the borough president and the developer negotiated without community input, a decision community stakeholders did not take lightly. Over time however, the developer publicly committed to the community benefits principles, which according to the borough president, was a deciding factor in backing the project. The six principles are: to provide living wage jobs for local residents; offer 50,000 square feet of community space; exclude big box retails; create small businesses; commit to redevelopment that is environmentally sustainable; and build a public school. Working with the Urban Justice Center, which has been instrumental on the legal aspects of the community benefits agreement, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition finally won an agreement that would ensure that the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory would serve neighborhood residents.
Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has also ramped up its organizing of local tenants who are also feeling the combined effects of the armory redevelopment and the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning. Working alongside other Bronx organizations, the group is holding to demands that any redevelopment includes secure jobs, local hiring, housing affordability that meets residents’ needs, strong anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies, and community participation.
Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition was started by local community leaders in response to the wave of arson, abandonment, and disinvestment that threatened to destroy the Bronx in the early 1970s. Since its inception, Northwest Bronx Coalition’s network of neighborhood affiliates has organized campaigns that address the development and preservation of affordable and energy efficient housing, green space, public school reform, community safety, accountable economic development, living wage job creation, access to affordable health care, park and recreational development, and immigrant rights. The Northwest Bronx Coalition brings area residents together to identify common problems and work together to solve them, primarily relying on a community organizing strategy to secure neighborhood improvements and policy changes.
Mekong, named after the Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia and Vietnam, serves the Southeast Asian community in New York City, primarily in the Northwest Bronx. Mekong grew out of the organizing work at CAAAV, when members of its Youth Leadership Program created and conducted a community-needs assessment in 2009. The report, Building the Mekong: Healing the Wounds of War and Forging the Future of the Southeast Asian Community in the Bronx, provided an impetus for CAAAV members, community leaders, and other stakeholders to create an organization that would provide for the social service, economic, and cultural needs of Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. Mekong is a member of the steering committee of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance.
Community Development Project
Housed at the Urban Justice Center, Community Development Project provides legal, technical, research, and policy assistance to grassroots community organizing groups in New York. Its Research and Policy Initiative, which receives funding through our Capacity Building Program, utilizes research and data analysis to complement its legal expertise. Its small research policy team produces participatory action research reports, helps grassroots groups identify policy issues and propose solutions, develops a popular education curriculum, and conducts strategic campaign research.
Who We Met
Executive Director, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
Sandra Lobo became Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition’s new executive director in 2016. For 17 years, she served as director of the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice at Fordham University, a local affiliate member and founder of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Her experience is in organizational and staff development, fundraising, and institutional organizing, focused on antiracist organizing. Ms. Lobo served on the board of directors of Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition for four years before becoming board chair for three years.
Organizing Director, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
Thomas Assefa, organizing director of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, joined the staff in July 2016 and comes with expertise in organizational management and development and a strong organizing background.
Economic Development Organizer, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
Leah James, lead equitable economic development organizer, works on the Kingsbridge Armory Campaign and supervises the organizing of small businesses in the area. Ms. James has significant experience in labor, political and public housing organizing.
Leadership Council Rep, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
Yvonne Viruet, small business organizer, was an active community leader for many years helping to win community benefits as part of the Armory campaign and also served on the health justice committee.
Supervising Attorney, Community Development Center
Gowri Krishna, supervising attorney at the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, supervises the technical assistance and capacity-building practice group, which supports community-based nonprofits and worker cooperatives in transactional and land use matters. Ms. Krishna and her colleagues at the Urban Justice Center provided critical legal expertise during the Armory negotiations as well as helping to support the accountability entities surrounding the project.
Executive Director, Mekong
Chhaya Chhoum is the board chair of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Ms. Chhoum is the executive director of Mekong, a Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition affiliate. Mekong is also a grantee of the New York Foundation.
Program Director, Neighborhoods First Fund
Joan Byron leads the Neighborhoods First Fund, a philanthropic collaborative that supports the engagement of low-income, communities in the planning processes. Prior to launching Neighborhoods First, Ms. Byron worked for over 25 years at the Pratt Center for Community Development, where she led research and advocacy on issues of social justice in New York City’s built environment. Ms. Byron is a registered architect and holds a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Field Organizer, Center for Community Change
Wendoly Marte is a former youth leader of Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition’s youth organizing arm, Sistas and Brothas United, and started organizing around the Armory as a teenager hoping to address school overcrowding by converting the Armory into much needed school space.
Local Resident, Kingsbridge Bronx
Ivan Braun is a local resident, member of New Day Church, an affiliate of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and strong community leader who serves as both the treasurer within the Kingsbridge Armory Signatory Board as well as the chairperson of the Community Advisory Council.